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New Release Review - WEST

An East German woman and her son seek a new life in '70s West Germany.


Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Christian Schwochow

Starring: Jordis Triebel, Tristan Gobel, Alexander Scheer, Jacky Ido



"Too many subplots are interwoven for us to fully invest in any of them. In constructing their drama, the Schwochows have thrown a lot of balls in the air. I'm still waiting for one of them to land."



German cold war drama West gives us something I can't recall coming across before - a mother and son writing and directing team. Adapted from Julia Franck's novel Lagerfeuer by screenwriter Heide Schwochow, the film is directed by her son Christian. Perhaps it's a fitting creative pairing, given the movie focusses on the travails of a young mother and her son.
That mother is Nelly Senff (Jordis Triebel), an East German who, during the '70s, emigrates across the border to West Germany along with her young son Alexej (Tristan Gobel). In the movie's opening scene we witness the pair bid farewell to Alexej's father Wassilij, a Russian, but we quickly learn this scene played out in their minds, Wassilij having died in a car accident several years prior. Once across the border, the pair become stationed in a crowded refugee centre, packed with fellow East Germans and those fleeing other Iron Curtain countries.
It's not long before the Allied Secret Service begins to take an interest in Nelly, quizzing her about Wassilij, who they believe may still be alive and working as a spy. The interrogating officer, John Bird (Jacky Ido), takes a far from professional interest in Nelly. Meanwhile back at the refugee centre, Alexej has befriended a melancholy East German immigrant, Hans (Alexander Scheer), who some suspect of being a secret agent for the notorious East German police, the Stazi.
Spelling the premise out on paper gives a false impression that West is another cold war Teutonic thriller along the lines of The Lives of Others, but it never really sways into genre territory. Schwochow's film is closer to a bloodless homage to the melodramas of Fassbinder, but it's more mellow than dramatic. Too many subplots are interwoven for us to fully invest in any of them, which is just as well, as none of them are ultimately resolved in a satisfactory fashion.
As a protagonist, Nelly is both unlikeable and uncompelling, coming across as the sort of clich├ęd ungrateful immigrant nationalist political parties obsess over. There's no drama to be found in her struggle to fit in in the West, as the struggles are all of her own making. The West welcomes her with open arms and hands her a brand new life on a plate; Nelly throws this plate at the wall, and we spend the remainder of the movie watching spaghetti slowly drip down said wall.
In constructing their drama, the Schwochows have thrown a lot of balls in the air. I'm still waiting for one of them to land.



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